The increasing responsibility of the modern secretary

*Some experienced secretaries declined to comment


Maria Newton

Secretary Susan Lowenstein works on her computer to update the school schedule for September. Lowenstein works with Principal Jeremy Mitchell on the overall workings of the school rather than with a specific grade level. “Secretaries want people to be comfortable around them,” Lowenstein said. “They almost act a counselor sometimes.”

Secretaries are a critical part of school communities. However, there is some dispute on the functions of their office, especially after the retirement of front desk receptionist Vickie Hankammer.

The task of the modern secretary has shifted with technology: computers have simplified many duties that they perform.

“Technology has changed the kind of work secretaries do,” Chief Human Resources Officer Amy Joyce said. “Technology has allowed them to be more efficient and timely with their work and, because of that, more work generally is being given to them.”

Some employees believe that these extra tasks have caused the workload of secretaries to swell past their 40 hour work weeks. Grade level secretaries have taken on the responsibility of student attendance, (passes, signing in, signing out, detentions), with no pay raise after the departure of the attendance secretary a few years ago.

“I think the district was trying to tighten purse strings,” Lowenstein said. “Overall, I think it has been okay for the grade level secretaries to do attendance, but I’m sure there are days where they would say it is overwhelming.”

A similar process occurred due to the retirement of Hankammer last year. Her assignments were delegated to secretaries throughout the building, none of whom received a pay raise.

“They are not going to be replacing that receptionist position,” Lowenstein said. “There are five women throughout the day who take an hour and a half each to man the desk. There are always a few bumps in the road [when things move around], but it seems to be going well.”

Sometimes it feels like we have to do more with less, and that is frustrating.”

— Susan Lowenstein

The process of working overtime hours has also seen some change this year, although sources disagree on what brought this about.

“It really hasn’t changed, it is just an enforcement,” Joyce said. “The way it is supposed to work is if there is an administrator with an occasional need for extra work…they should ask the secretary ‘Can you stay?’ But, there is really no change, it is really just the monitoring and enforcement of: Why is it that our secretaries are working all of this overtime?”

However, Lowenstein experiences how this policy functions and feels in the day-to-day work of a secretary.

“They changed it this year so [compensation time, which you can redeem for vacation days before the end of the year] is not really an option anymore,” Lowenstein said. “They are trying to get us to get all of our work done in our day and not work any overtime.”

There is also a new formula in place in the school district that allows every school to have one secretary per every 400 students. In previous years, the formula was one secretary to every 300 students. This formula is being implemented softly, meaning ‘extra’ secretaries are not fired, but once they quit or retire, they will not be replaced.

“Each of the high schools saw a reduction,” Joyce said. “It was to think about how we can re-purpose some of our positions. Some of the [secretary] positions [were changed] into teacher assistant positions to serve the district in a better way. We wanted to make sure everyone was implementing the formula in the same way.”

New secretaries have flooded into the school this year; four spots opened up last spring due to retirements or changes in job titles of past secretaries. Every class, except for the seniors, has a new secretary, and the senior class secretary Pam McHardy, has only been here one year. 

“There’s been a lot of turnover,” Lowenstein said. “So people who used to be here for years and years, who knew what to do like knowing the back of their hand, [retired].”

However, Lowenstein believes that the shifting in staff has not been a problem.

“Everyone has fit right in…they seem excited to be here,” Lowenstein said. “They’re getting along with their respective principals and they all seem to really like kids.”

Despite this, tensions among senior secretaries are growing. In Lowenstein’s opinion, secretaries should not always be on the receiving end of district budget cuts.  

“It should not always be about the money. [Secretaries] are an important hire because they are the face of an office,” Lowenstein said. “You have to be comfortable with that person and be able to go to that person, but it is hard when they have extra responsibilities added on. Sometimes it feels like we have to do more with less, and that is frustrating.”